OVERNIGHT HEALTH: Enrollment hits 3.3 million

About 3.3 million people have selected a healthcare plan under ObamaCare, Health and Human Services (HHS) announced on Wednesday. More than 1.1 million people enrolled in January, on top of the 2.2 million who selected plans from October through December.
 

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January surpasses December as the month with the most enrollments, when a push by the administration and the first open enrollment deadline at the end of the year resulted in more than 1 million people signing up. Few people predicted January would be a banner month for enrollments, so Friday’s announcement indicates there is active demand for coverage, and that the administration’s and insurers' efforts to get the word out about the law are gaining momentum.


That’s encouraging news for the Obama administration, as some experts had predicted a fall-off in enrollments for January. A flood of last-minute sign-ups is also expected in March, when open enrollment ends for 2014 and the penalty associated with the individual mandate set in. Read about the numbers at The Hill's Healthwatch blog.

Newsflash: The Senate approved a clean debt hike after Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and his top lieutenant voted "yes." Read about the vote at The Hill's On the Money blog.

Blow to Medicare providers: The Senate also sent legislation to the White House that would repeal a $6 billion cut to military pensions by extending the sequester on Medicare spending by an additional year, to 2024.

Senate Democrats said they weren’t entirely happy with the extension of the Medicare spending caps, but they didn’t raise objections.

“You don’t always get what you want,” Sen. Angus King (I-Maine), who caucuses with the Democrats, told The Hill. “It’s pretty hard to oppose it since it’s one of the things we proposed a month ago on unemployment."

Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) had initially expressed opposition to extending the Medicare sequester caps, but he said Wednesday he could support it because the change doesn’t hit the budget until 2024.

“We’ll get it fixed,” Nelson told The Hill. “It’s all this funny money.” The Hill's Defcon Hill blog has more on the vote.

Five-year low: The percentage of uninsured people in the United States has fallen to a five-year low, according to a Gallup survey released on Wednesday. About 16 percent of adults are uninsured, according to the report. That’s down from the multi-year high of 18 percent in 2013, and from 17.1 in the previous survey quarter.

The uninsured rate is on pace to end the first quarter at its lowest point since President Obama came into office. The administration says more than 3 million people have selected a plan through the federal and state healthcare exchanges since Oct. 1. Millions more have obtained coverage under the law’s Medicaid expansion.

The survey is welcome news to the White House, which has received questions about whether the number of U.S. uninsured will actually go down in ObamaCare's first year given the number of canceled health policies. Read more at Healthwatch.

Softer pot policy: More than a dozen House lawmakers are urging President Obama to soften the federal government’s penalties for marijuana use. In a letter on Wednesday, they ask Obama to direct Attorney General Eric Holder to scale back how the government punishes people for using the drug.

“We request that you instruct Attorney General Holder to delist or classify marijuana in a more appropriate way, at the very least eliminating it from Schedule I or II. Furthermore, one would hope that your Administration officials publicly reflect your views on this matter,” the letter says.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), who spearheaded the letter, has been an outspoken proponent of legalizing marijuana. As a state legislator in 1973, he sponsored a bill that became law removing any criminal penalties for possession of pot.

Read more from The Hill's Briefing Room blog.


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